James Collins was as bemused as anyone as to why West Ham United struggled to hit the heights against Stoke City, as the Hammers' unbeaten start to the campaign ended in a low-key 1-0 Barclays Premier League defeat at the Boleyn Ground.

A frustrating afternoon for Sam Allardyce's men looked to be headed for a goalless draw, before second-half substitute Jermaine Pennant planted a fine free-kick beyond Jussi Jaaskelainen with just eight minutes to play.

It proved sufficient to see the Potters depart east London with all three points, a result that left Collins wondering why the hosts had struggled to reproduce their typical tempo and fluency.    

"We weren't great," he admitted. "Obviously in the first half we weren't the best and at half-time we could only improve, but unfortunately we weren't able to do that.

"It was a strange one. We've just talked about it in the dressing room, but we never got out the blocks. I think to be fair to Stoke they came and did a very good job. They stopped us playing and we didn't have too many passes on.

"We didn't want to just lump it up front, because they're good in the air at the back. They made it difficult for us and to be honest I thought it was going to be a 0-0. Unless there was something special and Jermaine has produced a free-kick from nowhere."

In his attempts to explain the Hammers' sluggish start, Collins confessed it is not the first time that he and his colleagues have struggled to hit the ground running, pointing to last year's visit of Southampton.

"We did it a couple of last times last year. The gaffer has just mentioned Southampton at home last season, we were terrible first half and then came out and ended up winning 4-1.

"It just didn't click today, no one can quite put their finger on it. We've just got to put it behind us. We've got a long time until the next game to work on it and that's what we'll do."

With an international break now upon them, Big Sam's side have a fortnight before a trip to St Mary's and Collins is hopeful the Hammers will use the extended break to their advantage.    

"You want to get rid of it straight away, we've got 15 days to dwell on a loss at home, so we don't really want that, but it gives us more time on the training pitch to work on stuff.

"I think you've got to [write this one off]. It's hard sometimes to do that, but you don't want to dwell on it for too long. We'll get back on the training pitch and working hard. A few of the boys are going away on international duty, so we'll miss them, but we've got to look forward to getting three points at Southampton."

Even in defeat, Collins collected the Man of the Match award, though he was not about to take solace in his own accolades, nor in another solid defensive display. That said, the Welsh centre-half was certainly impressed with the application of fellow Welshman Mark Hughes' men.  

He continued: "The back four did alright, they had a few shots and Jussi's made a great save first half. But it doesn't really matter, we still lost 1-0. If it were 0-0 we'd obviously be happier, but you're never content as a defender if you lose.

"They changed it about. A new manager and a new style of play. They did a job on us. They stopped us playing and when they had the ball they did very well. It looks good for them."

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